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Shi: Puig’s imperfection makes him a fan favorite

During the long collegiate offseason (which is both interminable and not nearly long enough), occasionally people may feel free to be as silly as they like. Stanford just traded its Twitter handle “@SUAthletics” to Syracuse for several oranges and a “collection of local goods to be named later,” reminding us yet again that almost nobody refers to Stanford as “SU” anyway.  Similarly, after badly hooking an approach shot, the golfer D.H. Lee recently flipped off the crowd at the AT&T National. Why? Who knows?

I would hope that Mr. Lee’s antics were purely in the service of general silliness, seeing as there seems to be no rational reason for insulting the crowd that he’d just shot a ball at. Unfortunately, I can’t imagine any scenario in which his conduct could be considered acceptable.

Happily, silliness does not always have to be shameful. As a shameless Dodgers fan, I would like to draw your attention to another section of the sports world: the curious case of Yasiel Puig.

If you have read this far, I am sure that you are already sick of hearing about Puig. My first response would be to recommend that you not watch ESPN all day; there’s not enough sports to fill 24 hours a day of TV coverage, and ESPN fans really shouldn’t be surprised if they never want to hear the words “Puig,” “Tebow,” or “Danica” ever again after a month of watching SportsCenter reruns.

Puig is remarkable for the fact that his hype is currently justified by his play – he has gotten off to the hottest start since Joe DiMaggio – but also for the fact that even after lighting up scoreboards across the Pacific Coast, the Dodgers still find themselves in the cellar of the NL West.

The Dodgers’ failures are probably the silliest irony of all. Puig’s Cuban rookie contract was supposed to be one of the centerpieces of the Dodgers’ new “make it rain” strategy, in which their new Wall Street overlords would spend millions not only on players, but also on youth. The true big-money signings and trades – Gonzalez, Kemp, Beckett, Crawford and Ramirez – have hardly panned out: Gonzalez’ power stroke has seemingly disappeared, Kemp has been mired in a slump inconceivable that a $20 million/year man could have until now and the latter three have been on the DL more often than not. Still, for the most part these contracts have suffered due to injuries. Sometimes these things happen. Fate is not a bad excuse.

Puig, on the other hand, has performed beyond any reasonable (read: not psychedelic) expectations, and yet the Dodgers still suck. He has powered my fantasy baseball team forward in its march towards .500 (yes, it’s been a poor season), but the real baseball team in Los Angeles is still looking up at the hideous usurpers from Orange County. That really does drive home how bad this team is doing right now, hmm? Not really all that surprising. The Dodgers had the NL MVP and the NL Triple Crown winner two years ago and still missed the playoffs. Star power sells tickets in Hollywood, but unlike in basketball, stars don’t buy victories.

I suppose this is where I remind myself that Puig, not mediocrity, is what I will remember in 20 years or so. He’s been positively electric, not just hitting the ball but throwing it across the field like a Sidewinder missile. He goes for the extra base whenever he can, even when the Dodgers don’t need a run or when his chances of success aren’t that great. (He gets thrown out a lot, too.) He strikes out constantly and he avoids walks like the proverbial plague, but he is just so freaking fun to watch. He’s silly and imperfect, but perhaps he’s a fan favorite because he is imperfect. Hey, Manny Ramirez was more popular than Matt Kemp.

They say that if a team must be terrible, it should at least be fun.

If that’s the case, then thank God for Yasiel Puig.

Winston Shi is lying about the current state of his fantasy baseball team. In fact, his team dropped to below .100 as of yesterday. Send him an online copy of “Managing Your Fantasy Baseball Team for Dummies” at wshi94 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Winston Shi

Winston Shi is an opinions columnist and senior staff writer for The Stanford Daily and was the Managing Editor of Opinions for Volume 245 (February-June 2014). He also sits on The Daily's Editorial Board. Previously, he worked at The Daily as a staff writer for the sports section. He is a junior originally from Southern California and majors in history. In his free time, he likes to read, travel and write about himself in the third person. Contact him at wshi94@stanford.edu.